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What Does Saks' Closing Mean For the Future of the Arboretum?

High-end retailer Saks Incorporated announced that it plans to close its Saks Fifth Avenue stores located in Austin’s Arboretum Market at the end of the year.

Approximately 64 associates are employed in the Austin store. The retailer says all affected associates either will be offered transfer opportunities or will receive employment separation packages. Saks will also be closing down a location in Highland Park, Illinois.

“Store closing decisions are never easy,” Saks Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Steve Sadove says in a statement. “We are very appreciative of our many loyal associates in both the Highland Park and Austin Saks Fifth Avenue stores, and we are committed to providing them with needed assistance during this period.”

This closing comes at an inopportune time for the Arboretum, considering they are now competing for customers at similar upscale, North Austin locales like the Domain and the Arbor Walk.

Indianapolis-based Simon Property Group owns both the Arboretum and the Arbor Walk, and the Austin American-Statesman reported earlier this summer that the Simon Property Group was bringing new shops to both centers.  However, the Arboretum has also lost additional tenants recently, including Victoria’s Secret and Banana Republic.

The Arboretum was among the first wave of major Austin retail developments to eschew a traditional indoor mall format, a move that's since been refined by its competitors. (Wikipeida notes only one such enclosed mall has been built since 2006.) But as the story of Highland Mallattests, malls follow a lifecycle. 

A couple researchers have even cataloged the stages of a mall’s life. In a paper called “The Life Cycle of Shopping Centers and Possible Revitalization Strategies,” authors argue that shopping centers “go through four different life stages, different one from the other: innovation (launch), growth (accelerated development), maturity and decline. … This concept is very useful since it ‘provides a plausible and useful explanation for the emergence and decline of the different shopping center formats.’”

Where the Arboretum rests along that continuum will certainly be the subject of debate in months to come.  

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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